Birthmarked Page 29

"Around midnight. Can you tell me who my parents are?" he asked.

She stopped chewing as an idea came to her. She swallowed. "Do you know anything about my mother?"

He looked confused. "No. Is she here? In the Bastion?"

"I believe so. I'm trying to find her," she said. "How badly do you want to know about your own parents? Enough to let me out?"

The sergeant leaned his broad shoulders back against the door and crossed his arms. Muscles bulged under the black fabric. "It would be too dangerous," he said.

She let out a dry laugh. "For you or for me?"

He seemed to consider, and then he dug his fingers back through his blond hair in a way that struck her as very young. "Both," he said. "It isn't possible. Believe me. Anybody who helped you would have to be willing to leave the Enclave forever. Don't even ask."

Leon obviously felt the same way, she realized bitterly. "Then don't even ask me who your parents are," she said. "You can wait like everyone else until it pleases Mabrother Iris to share the information."

He gave her a long, scrutinizing look, and then he picked up the empty glass from the tray and stepped into the bathroom.

Jerk, she thought. She took a nibble of the white cheese while she heard the water running, and when Sgt. Bartlett came back, she thought he looked pale beneath his tan. When she reached for the glass of water, he held it back a moment longer than was natural, and she saw he was watching her keenly. With an infinitesimal nod, he indicated the glass.

Suddenly on alert, she reached for it again, and she saw a message written on the palm of his hand:


Her gaze shot to his. His lips were closed in a grim line, and he was watching her closely. "You must be thirsty," he said in a normal voice.

Afraid to turn, afraid to look, Gaia lifted the glass with trembling fingers to her lips. Oh, no, she thought. They'd been watching her the whole time. What she'd thought was a motion detector had to be also a camera. They'd seen her with Leon, and they'd seen him leave. Her mind raced. They were watching her with Sgt. Bartlett right now. Could they hear what she was saying, too?

It was all she could do not to scream in frustration. She took another bite of her cheese, chewing slowly, and Sgt. Bartlett went back to lean against the door in his former position. She saw he had his hand fisted tightly in his pocket. In fact, a faint tremor of tension was visible all through him, now that she was watching for it. She hoped it wouldn't show to whomever was watching.

"What happened to those girls?" she asked, trying to make it sound like she was beginning an idle conversation.

"What girls?"

"I saw them earlier in the square," she said. "It looked like they were being rounded up and brought to the Bastion."

He shook his head, puzzled. "I don't know who you saw," he said.

She grew impatient. "Before. When Leon was here. Haven't you talked to him?"

Sgt. Bartlett glanced away from her in a way that instantly put her on alert. He seemed to be choosing what to say, and she realized he, too, was caught in the problem of needing to appear as if he had not told her they were being watched. Why had he warned her about the camera? He seemed to make a decision, and his brown eyes were serious as he gazed at her.

"He was taken to meet with the Protectant," he said. "Shortly after he left this room earlier today. No one's seen him since."

"Well," she said dryly. "Let's hope he and his father are having a nice chat."

He turned toward the door. "If you 11 excuse me," he said. "I'll be back for the tray in ten minutes," he said. "Help your' self to more water if you want it." He nodded toward the bathroom.

Water? She wanted to scream. What she needed was to get out of here. She gripped her fists together and turned away.

The door closed softly behind him, and she let out a whoosh of pent-up air. What was she supposed to do now? A camera was aimed at her every move. She was afraid to look up at the little white device in the corner of the ceiling, but she was certain now that that's where the camera lens was hidden.

A burst of realisation hit her: the camera didn't reach the bathroom. And that was where Sgt. Bartlett had gone. Trying to look unconcerned, she walked first to the window, then to her tray to take the last morsel of bread, and then, with her glass, she headed into the bathroom. She stepped around the corner, closed the door, and stared at what she saw on the mirror glass:

1 Chance

October 24, 2390

Sgt. Bartlett had written the message with the wedge of blue soap that lay by the faucet of the sink. Her heart pounding, she dampened a corner of towel and rubbed frantically at the soap on the mirror. October 24, 2390, she thought, repeating the date in her head to memorize it.

Her hand went still on the glass.

She already knew that date. That was her brother Odin s birth date. She instinctively drew her fist to her lips.

"I can't believe this," she whispered. "He's my brother."

Could she be sure? What if there were other advanced babies born on the same date? The answer "would be right in the code.

Checking the mirror one last time to be sure it was clean of any evidence, Gaia walked back into the yellow room. With a soft clink, she set the glass on the tray, and then stepped before the code. It took her several minutes to look up his birth date, but it was clear that only her parents' names were listed by that date. Sgt. Bartlett was her brother Odin. Unquestionably. Her mind was racing.

Sgt. Bartlett's blond hair and fair complexion made no sense to her because she and her parents were all dark. But it was possible, she supposed. Not all children looked like their parents. He was going to be astounded by the news.

When he returned, she must be ready for anything. She put the little mirror in her pocket. Doubtless Mabrother Iris, or whoever had been watching, already knew what she had discovered-- she'd been quite open with Leon while she was unraveling it, but she'd do all she could not to reveal anything more on her own. She ordered all her notes in a pile so they'd be ready for her to grab.

There was a soft rap on the door and Sgt. Bartlett opened it. Expectant, she took one look at his face and knew he had a plan, but more extraordinarily, she saw an echo of her father in his brown eyes. Now that she knew to look for it, the faint resemblance was unmistakable. She was struck with pleasure, and then fear.

"We have seventeen seconds to get out," he said quietly.

Gaia grabbed her papers and flew after him down the hall.

He led her down a narrow staircase, up another, through several doors, and around half a dozen corners. At a closet, he pulled out a red cape with a hood.

"Go through the school courtyard," he said. "Move slowly, straight through the school, and go out the opposite door. You'll be in the street. From there you'll have to find your own way."

"Where are you going?" she asked. She hadn't expected to split up from him so soon.

"That's my business." He was putting on a brown shirt and a dark hat. "Quick," he said. "Who are my parents?"

She gripped his hands tightly. "Bonnie and Jasper Stone from Western Sector Three," she said. "You're my brother."

His cheeks went pale as incredulity and amazement made him frown. He stared intently at her face, as if memorizing and testing every feature.

"How is that possible?" he said.

"It's true." She knew it in her bones, in the deepest fiber of her being. "You're Odin Stone. You have an older brother, too, who was also advanced to the Enclave. I don't know who he is here. Our father's dead. Our mother's imprisoned, but I don't know where."

There was a noise from above and shouting. Terrified, she reached for him, and he crushed her to him for an instant.

"My sister," he said, his voice cracking. "It's worth it, then." He pushed her away. "Go! Now!"

There was another shout and loud footsteps on the staircase above, and then she gripped the knob of the door and pulled. She heard more shouts behind her, but didn't dare to look back. She could only hope Sgt. Bartlett was getting away. She pulled her cloak carefully around her face and walked across an open courtyard, shadowed and hollow sounding with night. It was painful to keep her stride normal when every instinct urged her to run. Glancing up, she saw a woman closing a window, but the woman paid no attention to Gaia below.

When Gaia reached the door, the knob opened smoothly in her fingers. She had to push with her shoulder to make the heavy wooden door open, and her fear increased again. What if the next door was locked and Sgt. Bartlett had sent her to a dead end? A light flickered on in the hallway and illuminated cream-colored walls. To her right, the hallway opened on a lit' tie room with a fireplace that glowed with coals.

An elderly woman in white glanced up from beside the fireplace. "Good evening, Masister," the woman said in a sleepy voice.

Hardly daring to breathe, Gaia said, "I serve the Enclave."

"And I," she murmured, turning back to the fire.

Feeling like an imposter who could be exposed at any moment, Gaia walked purposefully down the hallway, passing closed doors and a tall, old-fashioned grandfather clock that ticked quietly in the stillness. At the end of the hall, the passage opened in two directions, and on impulse Gaia turned left, the darker direction. She had progressed only a dozen paces when she realized she'd made a mistake. She was in a kind of dormitory, with two rows of beds. Her arrival caused a light to go on automatically above her, and the blanketed shape on the closest bed turned in her direction.

"Where've you been?" a girl's voice whispered, sounding annoyed and curious.

Gaia backed up a step. The person sat up further, and Gaia could see she was a teenage girl in a white nightgown, close to Gaia's own age. Brown curls framed an oval, open face with a straight nose and a generous mouth. Her eyes were growing rounder, and she instinctively pulled the blanket up toward her chest.

"Who are you?" the girl said, her voice still quiet.

"My mistake," Gaia said, backing up another step.

If the girl let out an alarm, Gaia would be caught. Gaia pulled the hood of her cloak nearer the left side of her face, but the movement was another mistake. The girl gasped.

"You re that girl with the scar!" the girl squeaked.

"Shh!" Gaia said. "Please!"

Gaia turned and fled as quickly as she could, retracing her steps and continuing in the other direction. Around another corner, she found a large wooden door that matched the first one she'd come in, and she opened it firmly. Soldiers were running down the street, and she backed up, waiting until they passed.

She slipped through the doorway and into the street, heading away from the direction the soldiers were going. Her heart lurched with every step, and she couldn't get her bearings. She wanted to go downhill, but whenever she tried to, she saw more soldiers, so she was forced to head uphill. Finally she came to a street she recognized. A cafe was brightly lit, and men were laughing loudly in a group by the bar. If she headed uphill, she would come to the garden where she and Leon had talked once. If she circled back, she might be able to reach the bakery with the black oven, but that was close to the Square of the Bastion again, where there would certainly be more soldiers. She didn't know what to do.

At that moment, the men in the cafe burst into laughter, and two of them came out, calling good-byes. They headed toward the left, and on impulse Gaia turned back, west, toward the square.

She hurried now, losing her nerve. It seemed she could hear footsteps and voices all around her. Walls boxed her in on the right, and lights bolted on above whenever she came to a streetlamp with a motion detector. Cameras, she feared, could be anywhere. She turned a corner, and saw a group of soldiers approaching from the other direction. Her heart sank into her black shoes, but there was nothing to do but keep walking toward them, hood up, shoulders square.

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